- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Voter discontent with developers’ influence on Montgomery County politics carried an underdog county executive candidate to victory, political observers said yesterday.

“We’re talking about a seismic change in Montgomery County,” said Drew Powell, executive director of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, a watchdog group — also known as Neighbors Pac, that had a significant impact on this year’s races.

Isiah “Ike” Leggett defeated well-financed opponent Steven A. Silverman, an at-large County Council member, after results were delayed well into yesterday because of problems at polling places.

“I made the question of slowing down growth a pivotal issue,” Mr. Leggett said. “My intent was to literally slow it, not just manage what is growing already.”

Mr. Leggett, 61, will run against Republican challenger Chuck Floyd, 56, a security consultant, and independent Robin Ficker, 63, a lawyer, in the November general election.

Mr. Leggett would become the first black county executive in the county’s history.

“It demonstrates that our community has matured beyond the race distinctions that far too many other communities still suffer from,” said Mr. Leggett, who in 1995 became the first black person elected to the County Council.

Mr. Leggett also said that the 2005 building scandal in Clarksburg — where residents discovered that the county was allowing developers to run roughshod over zoning regulations — added to anti-developer sentiment.

“It became the poster child for those feelings that people had about special interests and the influence of developers,” he said. “A case like this comes along [and] that sort of affirms the suspicions people had all along.”

Mr. Silverman, who did not return phone calls, raised $2.2 million for this race, an unprecedented amount for a county executive run. Mr. Leggett raised $831,000, state campaign finance records show.

Neighbors Pac said that more than 70 percent of Mr. Silverman’s money came from development interests, while about 20 percent of Mr. Leggett’s contributions were from developers.

The group criticized Mr. Silverman’s development ties relentlessly, saying that many of his decisions as chairman of the council’s Housing Committee were too developer friendly.

Neighbors Pac also posted large amounts of information on its Web site and endorsed candidates who vowed to take less than 33 percent of campaign contributions from developers. Mr. Leggett was among them.

“This is the first time I think [the Internet] was a big factor in Montgomery County elections,” said council member Phil Andrews, a Rockville Democrat who has refused money from developers since being elected in 2002. “It helped a lot in getting out information.”

Council member Michael Knapp, Clarksburg Democrat, was one Silverman ally who easily defeated his primary challenger, though Neighbors Pac has said Mr. Knapp took about 60 percent of his campaign cash from development interests.

Mr. Knapp said county government will look very different under Mr. Leggett.

“Ike is a good person at bringing people together,” he said. “I’m not clear yet as to the vision that he has.”

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